What a difference four years make.
Mitt Romney is now essentially the presumptive Republican nominee — other candidates are dropping hints of unifying against President Obama, establishment giants like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio are lining up behind the former Massachusetts governor, and his campaign is even talking about its strategy to challenge the White House on foreign policy.
Is the moderate 2012 Mitt Romney -- despite his courting of conservatives -- that different from the 2008 version, the guy who ran for president but lost the GOP nomination to the moderate John McCain? He's still the same person, more or less, but his campaign strategy changed significantly. Here's how.
Don't Make It Rain
In 2008, Romney spent more than $42 million of his own cash to fund his bid for president. That's about $9 of his own money for each vote he got, and it's also about as much as the indomitable super PAC currently supporting him has spent so far ($40 million).
Romney changed his tune after spending a small fortune and not winning, deciding that in the 2012 cycle he would rely on donors for money instead (car elevators don't pay for themselves after all). He was, of course, aided and abetted by the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which effectively released unlimited amounts of money on the campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that Romney has spent only $52,500 of his own money for the 2012 nomination.
In May, the Romney campaign announced that the candidate and his wife gave $150,000 to a joint fund with the Republican National Committee, an apparent symbolic donation.
By doing so, Romney avoids the charge that he's just a rich guy who's able to run for president because he can afford to. Instead he's perceived as just a rich guy who's able to run for president because his friends can afford to donate to his super PAC.
Turn a Blind Hawkeye
Iowa gets a lot of attention every four years because it's the first state to vote in the primary process. Romney used to be one of those who believed in Iowa's significance — in his quest for the nomination in 2008, he spent $7 million trying to win the Iowa caucus, looking for an early boost in the campaign season and a validation of his candidacy.
He didn't win the caucus, and after that, it wasn't hard to see that he didn't have a great shot at winning the whole thing, either.
So in 2012, Romney repaid Iowa by giving it the stiff arm. He barely campaigned there until the home stretch before the early January vote, while some of his opponents had spent their entire campaigns in Iowa.
Romney's early-state strategy was anchored in New Hampshire, which he was expected to win easily. So it came as a nice surprise to him that he was declared the winner in Iowa by eight votes, even if a counting error later resulted in Rick Santorum's actually being the winner. In his speech that night, Romney called it a "great victory." With the storyline that he was a strong candidate despite not campaigning in Iowa too much, Romney sailed through New Hampshire.
Romney spent much of the 2008 cycle introducing himself to voters in ads that would be described by most people as "positive," i.e. they were about the candidate himself and didn't accuse opponents of fathering illegitimate children.
Take this 2007 ad — called "Leadership" — in which Romney jogs along a trail while a narrator runs through his background as the manager of the Olympics and a private-equity firm. "He turned around dozens of companies and became a business legend," the pleasing voice says. "At every step, he's met extraordinary challenges."